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Youthful Discretions 

Well, let's see, what's the news today? Sixteen-year-old blows neighbor's head off with an Uzi, after an argument over a candy bar. Don't think I'll finish that article. I'll just turn the page. Oh, look at this picture: a weeping woman, being comforted by another woman. Her teenage daughter was raped and cut into little pieces by a drug-dealing boyfriend. Turn that page as well.

If you've started your morning once too often with some version of the above fictionalized scenario, and you're starting to feel seriously glum about the future of the human race (and especially the younger generation), toss the newspaper in the trash basket, turn off the television and head for NORD's theater. Things are not as bad as you've been led to believe.

Director Ty Tracy has gathered such a winning, talented group of kids for his Youth Workshop production of the musical Grease, you will leave the theater with a lightness to your step, a smile on your face and a mind free from the acrid vapors of pessimism.

Grease is a musical cartoon of the '50s: high school, hoods, proms, drive-ins; the whole nine yards. The show was first produced in 1971, less than 20 years after the decade it paints in broad but affectionate strokes. I suppose the shock of the '60s speeded up the secretions of the national nostalgia gland.

There is an irony in all the good feelings the show leaves one with. For the high-schoolers portrayed in the script are the "bad" kids of yesteryear: the greasers and their chicks. But a "rumble" between gangs seems chivalrous compared to a random drive-by. And, in any case, the "badness" here is all just youthful hijinks. No one will be hurt in the rumble. The zip gun will leave no victims.

The little NORD theater, with its "Let's Put On A Play" aura, is the perfect venue for this kind of thing. And set designer Phillip Wagar has created an airy, evocative setting with a motif of musical staffs on a pink background. The usual NORD combo of drum and piano has been beefed up to include a bass, a guitar and two saxophones, giving the catchy, rock 'n' roll score an authentic dance band sound.

The story mostly follows the romance between Danny Zuko, a member of the Burger Palace Boys, and Sandy Dumbrowski, a "nice" girl who has recently arrived at Rydell High. Sandy is reluctantly accepted by the girl gang, The Pink Ladies, despite being an impregnable goody-two-shoes vis-a-vis the things that matter in this corner of the school yard: smoking, drinking and sex.

Everything dear to mid-century, prelapsarian adolescence is given its due: There is a pajama party; a prom; a dance contest -- judged by famous radio DJ "Vince Fontayne, the main brain" (Tim Callais); and, of course, a date at the "passion pit,"where Sandy stoutly refuses to put out, or even smooch a little. Finally, however, the ex-imaculata changes her spots (so to speak) and trades her poodle skirt for tight pants and heavy mascara. Sandra Dee, no longer!

All of this silliness is put across with enthusiasm and charm. Bryan Wagar and Shannon Rockweiler are effective as the baffled young lovers. Chris Latzke, Julius Feltus, Lamar Edwards and Jeremy Reese create a likable bunch of lugs, and some of their numbers, like "Greased Lightning," are irresistible fun. They are ably matched by The Pink Ladies: Ashleigh Hoppe, Ciera Payton, Gabrielle Porter and the irrepressible, twee-voiced Christina Peck.

There are many delightful moments ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" by Gabrielle Porter, springs to mind), but what can match the appearance of the Teen Angel (Rendell Debose) who brings down the house just standing still -- and then leads a marvelous heavenly extravaganza.

Somewhat less polished than Grease, but bursting with enthusiasm and charm of its own was The Pirates Conspirate, an original musical (songs by Delfeayo Marsalis, book by Phyllis Clemmons). The show, which closed recently at the UNO Downtown theater, featured a cast of more than 40 kids, between the ages of 9 and 19. The story had a mythological king -- a sort of elfin, upper-crust Toussaint L'Ouverture (played with relish by Todd McKnight) pursuing a band of pirates who had sacked one of his ships. Under John Grimsley's imaginative direction, the cast put over the bouncy tunes and created a genial atmosphere of hilarity and havoc that culminated in a tumultuous fracas between the pursued and the pursuers.

Some stand-outs in the cast were Donald Jones, Laci Broussard, Rechard Terrell, Frankie Jupiter and Mathew Carroll.

If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously remarked, then the message of these two youthful enterprises is hopeful indeed.

click to enlarge Pretty in Pink: Christina Peck, Ashleigh Hoppe, Ciera Payton and Gabrielle Porter comprise the formidable Pink Ladies in the NORD production of Grease.
  • Pretty in Pink: Christina Peck, Ashleigh Hoppe, Ciera Payton and Gabrielle Porter comprise the formidable Pink Ladies in the NORD production of Grease.


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